What a pair

Two recipes to fall in love with

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Anna Jones

Valen­tine’s Day is so of­ten shunned, but I do think there is some­thing in it: it’s a day to cel­e­brate love – though not nec­es­sar­ily ro­man­tic love. On 14 Fe­bru­ary, I’ve cooked for friends, my sis­ter, my par­ents and, some years, very hap­pily just for my­self.

This is what I’ll cook at home on Valen­tine’s Day this year, with lit­tle cer­e­mony but lots of flavour – the very op­po­site of a restau­rant teem­ing with cou­ples who order from a love-themed set menu.

First: no-fuss spaghetti with fen­nel and squash polpette. This can be eaten straight from a big plate with a cou­ple of forks, Lady and the Tramp style. I’ll fol­low with easy choco­late pots, sweet­ened with med­jool dates and spiked with flaky sea salt – sweet enough with­out be­ing sug­ary.

Spaghetti and squash polpette

Once rolled, the polpette freeze well, and can be slowly fried from frozen in a pan with some olive oil. Here, I bake them for ease and to make their load a lit­tle lighter.

Serves 4 (or makes 2 meals for 2)

150g spaghetti

For the polpette

Olive oil 1 ½ small­red onion, fen­nel peeled­bulb, finelyand thinly chopped sliced 1 gar­lic clove, crushed 100g but­ter­nut squash, peeled and grated 150g cooked puy lentils (about ½ a tin) 50g bread­crumbs (I use whole­meal) 100g ri­cotta cheese Zest of 1 un­waxed lemon 25g pecorino or parme­san cheese, finely grated 1 red chilli, chopped, or a pinch of dried chilli flakes A few sprigs of pars­ley, leaves picked and roughly chopped

For the pistachio pesto

A small hand­ful of pistachio nuts (about 25g) A small bunch of basil, leaves picked 4 tbsp olive oil Juice of ½ a lemon A hand­ful of grated pecorino cheese (op­tional) Salt and black pep­per 1 Put a pan over a medium heat, add a lit­tle olive oil, then the fen­nel and onion. Fry for 10 min­utes un­til soft and sweet, then add the gar­lic and cook for a few more min­utes. Take off the heat and al­low to cool.

2 Put the fried veg­eta­bles into a bowl and add the grated squash with the other polpette in­gre­di­ents and mix well. Sea­son gen­er­ously and leave to sit for 20 min­utes. Mean­while, pre­heat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7.

3 Di­vide the mix­ture into 12 and roll into lit­tle balls. Place them on a bak­ing tray and driz­zle well with olive oil – or, if you want to be pre­cise, brush them all over for a per­fectly crispy out­side. Bake them for 20 min­utes, un­til they have a golden crust. You can also fry them in a lit­tle olive oil for 3-4 min­utes on each side un­til golden brown.

4 While the polpette are bak­ing, pop all the pesto in­gre­di­ents into a food pro­ces­sor. Add 2 tbsp of wa­ter and blitz to a chunky paste. If you pre­fer a lit­tle more oil in your pesto, add some more here, but I like the fresh­ness of it the way it is. Taste and ad­just the amount of lemon, cheese and sea­son­ing if you need to.

5 When the polpette have had 10 min­utes in the oven, fill a large saucepan with boil­ing wa­ter, add salt and, once at a rolling boil, add the spaghetti and cook ac­cord­ing to the in­struc­tions – usu­ally about 8 min­utes.

6 Drain the spaghetti, re­serv­ing some of the cook­ing wa­ter. Add the pesto and mix it in well, adding a lit­tle of the re­served pasta wa­ter to loosen if needed. Put the spaghetti on to a big plat­ter then top with the polpette and a bit more cheese and some basil leaves.

Choco­late pots with salted date caramel

I have made enough for 4 small but lux­u­ri­ous pots here – any less is hard to man­age in the blender. The re­main­ing 2 pots will keep for a few days in the fridge. If you like, for an ad­di­tional back note, you could add a pinch of chilli or cin­na­mon – though I pre­fer unadul­ter­ated choco­late.

Makes 4 small pots, or 2 large ones

400ml tin co­conut milk 100g dark choco­late 2 tbsp ic­ing sugar or set honey

For the caramel

10 med­jool dates (about 150g) ½ tbsp maple syrup A good pinch of flaky salt

1 First, chill the tin of co­conut milk in the fridge. This will help the cream and wa­ter sep­a­rate, so you can eas­ily scoop off the cream.

2 Break the choco­late into a small heat­proof bowl. Half fill a small saucepan with wa­ter and bring to the boil. Take the saucepan off the heat, then put the bowl of choco­late over it, mak­ing sure it doesn’t touch the wa­ter. Leave the choco­late to melt over the steam and stir it oc­ca­sion­ally if need be.

3 Make the caramel by blitz­ing the dates with the maple syrup and salt in a blender un­til you have a thick, smooth paste. You may need to use a wooden spoon or spat­ula to push the dates down from time to time to help it blend nicely.

4 Re­move the tin of co­conut milk from the fridge, open it with­out shak­ing it and spoon the thick cream off the top into a mix­ing bowl. You will need about 180g of cream. (The left­over co­conut wa­ter can be kept in the fridge or freezer for mak­ing into a curry or smoothie.)

5 Whip the co­conut cream with an elec­tric hand whisk or stand mixer un­til it’s lump-free and be­gin­ning to thicken. Add the sugar or honey and whisk again.

6 Once the choco­late has melted, al­low it to cool then fold it into the co­conut mix­ture.

7 Spoon the date caramel into the bot­tom of your pots then pour over the choco­late mix­ture. Top with a lit­tle shaved choco­late. They will be ready to eat right away but will also keep for a few days in the fridge.

Anna Jones is a chef, writer and au­thor of A Mod­ern Way to Eat and A Mod­ern Way to Cook (Fourth Es­tate); an­na­jones.co.uk; @we_are_­food

▲ Cook’s tip If you don’t have soft med­jool dates, just use dried ones soaked in boil­ing wa­ter for 10 min­utes

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